Mental Health and Nature

Mental Health and Nature
Mental Health and Nature

Memories, there are some that will stay with you for life, while others fade with time. Sadly the bad ones tend to linger longer than the good. And when I think back through my life there are not many moments that I recall that were happy, the obvious exceptions being the birth of my children, of course. That isn’t to say that there were not (and are not) many happy moments. But I struggle to recall them usually. Speak to any psychologist and they will tell you you need to focus on the good rather than the bad, but memories are funny and it is far easier to recall the bad.

Wildlife experiences are some of the few that have stuck with me, those moments where the sheer joy of just being outside in the wilds makes you happy.Moments standing beside the river Ouse while all around me a massive flock of swooping swallows skim low of the water, hunting for newly hatching insects, neither the birds nor I caring that the rain was teeming down around me, are still strong in my mind, an experience I was privileged to be part of over a decade ago. Yet ask me to recall a great day out with friends and I’ll struggle.


Mental Health and Nature


As some people who know me will already know a number of years ago I suffered with a major bout of depression. I reached a level I never knew I could sink to. Days became difficult to cope with. Just getting out of bed was an effort. Life seemed not worth living, and things got very, very, dark for me. Fortunately I have a wonderful partner in Zoe who literally saved my life during that period.

It was a period of my life where I was drinking more than I should; socialising more than I could afford; and generally doing the things that were not conducive to my mental health. Thinking back on that time now it was also a time where I had taken a step back from spending time out in nature.

As time has moved on, I am now in a very good place with my mental health. Medication helped me out of that rut. I have also learnt that my mental health is very much linked to time spent outside. Spending time, often alone, in nature recharges my batteries, it keeps me sane, and it affects my moods.

If I am unable to find time to explore my local nature reserves, or spend time out experiencing nature in some way I start to feel hemmed in, I can feel darker forces exerting their pressure on me, I’m quicker to react to annoyances, find myself more aggressive, am quicker to snap at people and generally not great to be around.


Medical Advice?

I know I am not alone here, in fact links between good mental health and nature are becoming ever clearer. A recent publication by natural England that the government seem to be taking quite seriously reiterates this: A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care.

I’m lucky, I got through my mental health issues and now know how to keep them at bay. But with mental health affecting 1 in 4 of us in the UK it is important that those of us who have suffered are open and honest about things. And that we find a way to help people recover.

Personally I think enjoying nature is a great way to achieve this.

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  • Si

    Brave comments as always Ash, One memory that always makes me smile is hunting for Bluethroats with stones 🙂 You laughed eventually, when the bruising went down 🙂 Stay strong my friend, you are loved.

    • AshleyBeolens

      Thank you sir, my mental health is probably better than it has been for a very long time these days, my physical health (bar the back) isn't far off either with all the walking I'm doing 🙂

      And I'm pretty sure I still have a lump from that rock (not stone, was huge and bloody hurt!).

  • Lauren The Helpful Hiker

    Great, honest post and so true! It's so easy to get bogged down with all the stresses and challenges of life, but as soon as I step outside I feel a sense of calm. It is so important for your mental health to spend time outside, I know I soon start feeling on edge if I'm cooped up inside too long. I'm very firmly of the opinion that exercise & fresh air should be prescribed on the NHS!

    • AshleyBeolens

      I agree 100% with that if the NHS prescribed getting out in nature (and people actually listened) there would be less health issues I think.

      If I'm ill or working and can't get out for a week I start getting really ratty with people, not good, but 20-30 mins outside and I relax again.

      • Sybil Baldwin

        Nature and my camera are my best pain drugs, better than anything I have taken and there are no nasty side effects, quite the opposite all good. I do not have a mental health condition, I have an invisible illness that they have little knowledge of cause.. that does get me down, as my daughter puts it when will they stop filling you with chemicals it’s like you’re a guinea pig. Lucky I have a GP that agree’s with me my camera and getting out is my best pain drug.

      • Ashley Beolens

        Brilliant to hear you are finding pain relief through the outdoors and a camera. All to often a chemical solution is offered before a more, shall we say “traditional” method is sought. I think we are all guilty of that, but I am growing in my belief that we need a holistic approach to medicine rather than just treating a lone issue, we need to treat the whole body and mind at the same time.

    • AshleyBeolens

      Thank you, I think mental health issues need more public airing (especially amongst men – scarily suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 & 49.

  • Lauren

    Great post. I feel my best when I'm outdoors being active. Having suffered serious bouts of anxiety in the past, being outdoors is a great leveller and really helps put things in perspective and for me, being near the sea can be a great comfort (yet I ended up in MK, the furthest from the sea I've ever lived!).

    It's interesting too, as a teacher, to compare the children who spend time indoors and out. I feel there's a marked difference. Those who spend time outdoors are more curious, patient and engaged compared to those who don't. There's a clear link in my view.

    • AshleyBeolens

      I know what you mean a week by the sea and my other half and I become different people, so much more relaxed, but hey, we get a beach in the shopping centre each year lol

      It's interesting to hear about school children being affected by time outdoors in such a positive way, although I can understand why, I wonder what studies have been done and how much it is encouraged, I know my daughter used to have "forest Schools" not sure she does now though (new school in September so early days).

    • Lauren

      Yes, forest schools is a great initiative and I did train to level 1 leader (which doesn't amount to much!), but as ever, other things take priority!

  • Suz

    Such a great post. I know that getting out with my camera over the last 5years has been the only thing that has got me through. As soon as the cold air hits my face I can feel the anxiety and grief lift. My boys have also craved outdoors and forest school days each week have given the chilled evenings in our house!

    • AshleyBeolens

      I've always felt it is important to talk about mental health the same way we do other illnesses, especially as a man, with the shocking statistics on male suicide (the single biggest killer of men between 20 & 49).

  • Mark

    I hadn't read your blog before, Ashley (just spotted it on the Outdoor Bloggers FB page). Great blog and photos.

    Your post above resonated with me – I am lucky enough to have never had debilitating depression but there are many times over the past few years where I have started a walk on the hills round me with two dogs. The energising one that lives in the house with us and does the whole walk with me. And the shadowy black one that tends to mooch about in my peripheral vision and steals my interest from other things. But whilst it will often start the walk alongside me, it thankfully wanders off the longer I'm out and about.

  • Cheryl | TimeToCraft

    This is a wonderful post and honest. I'm glad the media are starting to report on the benefits too. Our local news had a piece several months ago about a scheme to reunite people suffering from depression and the big outdoors. I thought the comments from Lauren the teacher were really interesting. The affect it has on children.

    • AshleyBeolens

      They really resonated with me also (having three kids, although one is a little big to be called a kid now), so glad my love of and need for the outdoors may have inadvertently helped their education.

  • Jenni Tulip

    Great post and good of you to share your views and experience of mental health. If we can be more open about the effects an feeling mental health has on each of us, then hopefully the stigma mental health has will fade more rapidly.

    Although I don't suffer from depression as such, I do suffer from anxiety and I pretty sure I get SAD in the winter. Like you, nature really helps me. My best medicine is standing on the top of a mountain. I feel so at piece when I am there.

    Keep up the positive work 🙂

    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

    • AshleyBeolens

      Thank you.

      I think there are growing numbers of people willing to stand up and say "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of" and each one of us helps others to see their own issues in some ways, which can only help.

  • Anonymous

    Superb Blog Ash, so glad you came through. I agree totally and can identify with so much of the blog. Doctors have suddenly decided they don't want to take the meds before seeing me but haven't contacted me to review since (2 weeks now), boss even suggested I take a couple of days off! Anyway, it's so true that outdoors memories stay with you, I had a trip to France with your dad and Maggie when to be honest the depression was at its worst, I remember a lovely boat trip on a canal, seeing my first ever Serin, a great memory! Funny though, I can hardly remember anything else from that time. love to all the family, take it easy,
    Phil Gatley

  • Gökotta

    I’ve just found your blog, and it’s absolutely stunning. I love the photography!

    Regarding mental health and our relationship with nature, I couldn’t agree more. Taking a break, focusing on things more important than ourselves; I believe it’s one of the best ways to cope with stress and unhappiness. I’m sorry to hear that you were going through a rough patch, and I’m glad to hear that your family and love of nature helped you through tough times. All the best

    • Ashley Beolens

      Thank you

      Thankfully I am over the worst, but know things can easily change again, so have to be careful.

      We launch a new series in 2018 where once a month other “guest” posters relate their links between mental health “wellness” and the outdoors.

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